Unanimous Legislature honors longtime chairman
By Christian W. Peck
Public Information Officer
Niagara County Public Information Office
A unanimous Niagara County Legislature chose to honor its longest-serving chairman by naming a newly acquired county building after him the day after he leaves office, with a top county lawmaker hailing the departing presiding officer as "a great leader ... and a friend."
Chairman William L. Ross, C-Wheatfield, affectionately known as "the Coach" to everyone from county legislators to his former Niagara-Wheatfield students, leaves office Dec. 31. The next day, the county's newly acquired Social Services building, located at 20-40 East Ave., Lockport, will be renamed The William L. Ross County Office Building.
As a prelude to the unanimous vote, Legislator Kathryn L. Lance, chief sponsor of the resolution renaming the office complex, noted Ross, who had left the Democrat Party to become a Conservative, "served as a lawmaker when both the Democrats and the Republicans have been in control ... and though he himself, over time, shifted parties, I think all who know him know that he has never shifted his values."
Lance was one of several lawmakers to praise the outgoing chairman, who, despite coming up on his 82nd birthday, maintains an extremely full schedule that takes him from one end of the county to the other, as well as conferences around the state to advocate for county government priorities. Several legislators privately noted they could hardly keep pace with the retiring chairman, despite being much younger than Ross.
Lance's resolution also sets aside the first week in January 2016 as "William L. Ross Week" in Niagara County and schedules a formal dedication of the Ross Building for Jan. 4.
Lance praised Ross for his leadership in the county, advocating not only for the successful policies of the county government, but also for both ongoing efforts to protect the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station from closure and to grow the Niagara County Community College, where he serves as a trustee.
As seeming proof of Ross's role as an advocate for the college, lawmakers Tuesday also advanced a key measure supporting the college's Learning Commons project, a $25 million joint state/county construction initiative at NCCC that will include upgrades and renovation of the college library, a child development center and a faculty resource center.
"Bill has been a fierce advocate for the college on its board," Lance said, noting that, in addition to the Learning Commons, Ross was instrumental in the decision to locate the NCCC Culinary Institute in downtown Niagara Falls, where it replaced a deserted shopping mall.
Majority Leader Rick Updegrove praised Ross for being a leader and a friend to so many of his colleagues, before focusing on Ross's record of accomplishments.
"In 2004, county taxes were 12 percent higher," Updegrove said, lauding Ross for helping advance fiscally conservative reductions in the local share of government spending. "We also reduced the size of this government by 16 percent. You have been a leader in that effort, all while being a strong voice to preserve vital services."
Updegrove also lamented the coming shift in county government's leadership.
"Honestly, I have a hard time imagining the first meeting in January, because you have been such a leader, such a mainstay, that I can't even imagine what a post-Bill Ross era will be like," he said.
Both lawmakers also pointed to Ross's constant willingness to share his knowledge and to entertain friendly argument and debate in what Updegrove called the "rare - exceedingly rare - instances when we haven't been on the same side of an issue."
Lance noted that, as a county lawmaker representing Wheatfield, Ross had taken her under his wing during her first run for office, and afterward as a freshman legislator, both showing her the ropes of the legislative process and helping her make critical contacts in county, state and town government. She then noted her experience was not very different than that of her peers.
"I know that you find it awkward presiding over this discussion about naming a building after yourself," Lance told Ross, "But I know that every person in this room loves you and wishes you well."
"This honor is the least - the very least - this body can do to thank you for all you have done for Niagara," he said.